It is important for you to ask questions about possible therapies in order to learn more about your options and whether something you are contemplating is:
- an approved treatment for your condition
- being evaluated in clinical trial
- still in the research stage of development.
You need to do your research before you can make your decision.
How does regenerative medicine work?
Regenerative medicine is aimed at treating a wide range of conditions by helping the body repair tissue or organs that are diseased, dysfunctional or injured.
To do this, scientists conduct research to understand how naturally highly regenerative organisms such as the axolotl or zebrafish are able to undergo partial or complete regeneration and harness this understanding to develop translatable therapies to improve regeneration in humans.
Regenerative medicine can also involve substituting faulty or missing cells with those from a donor or created in the laboratory from stem cells.
Is regenerative medicine available?
Regenerative medicine is already used in medical practice for specific conditions. A segment of liver that is transplanted from a donor into a patient will regenerate into a larger, functional organ. Stem cells found in bone marrow and umbilical cord blood have been used to help patients overcome blood-related and immune conditions. It has also been used to regrow cells destroyed by chemotherapy treatment.
There are hundreds of clinical trials happening all around the world that are aimed at testing whether regenerative medicine could be used as a treatment for other debilitating conditions. Before they can be widely adopted, they must go through a rigorous process. Any new regenerative medicine treatment should always be evaluated to show that it is safe and it works before being offered to patients.
Scientist at ARMI are focused on developing new regenerative medicine applications and support the need for thorough evaluation to show that a possible treatment is safe and effective in registered clinical trials before becoming widely available to patients.
A reason for concern
There are already a number of clinics and companies overseas offering stem cell therapies for conditions such as Cerebral Palsy, spinal cord injury and Multiple Sclerosis. These treatments are yet to be evaluated in clinical trials and are not supported by the medical community and scientists because:
- There is no proof that the treatments being offered actually work
- Because they have not been properly tested they could pose a health risk to patients.
These treatments are very expensive and primarily promoted via testimonials and online advertising. It is not just overseas clinics marketing unproven treatments. There are an increasing number of Australian clinics and companies selling stem cell and nutraceutical products with 'regenerative' properties. We encourage people to thoroughly research these products, to ask for evidence behind any claims or testimonials made and to discuss their options with a trusted doctor who is familiar with their condition.
Before considering any treatments or products, please refer to the Australian Stem Cell Handbook to learn more about stem cells therapies and why there are trials in place to evaluate their validity. This handbook, and the steps it advises patients to follow, also applies to regenerative medicine.
Other resources and further reading
- Learn about clinical trials and how science becomes medicine
- Visit Stem Cells Australia to view a complete list of trials currently running for various stem cell therapies.
- NHMRC Frequently Asked Questions
- International Society for Stem Cell Research’s new Closer Look at Stem Cells website
- EuroStemCell fact sheets
- The above mentioned Australian Stem Cell Handbook for patients.